This article deals with various aspects of bonsai cultivation, including the containers used to grow them in, soils as well as the best possible location to grow these miniature trees.
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In China as well as Japan, it has been a tradition to create exceptional, stunning ceramic containers by hand for growing bonsai. In fact, the art of creating such containers is as old as the bonsai art itself. Currently, several countries in the West have prominent collections of valuable bonsai bowls and trays. While some of these ceramic products are plain, while many others are highly ornamented.
As these ceramic containers for bonsai are a work of art by themselves, they are frequently evaluated with picture frames. Like the work of art in a picture frame, the container of bonsai also complements the temperament of a plant or, on the whole, acts as a counterpoint. Therefore, selecting the appropriate container, especially considering its color, shape and size, for a particular bonsai tree, is also a greatly developed art form.
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Basically, we differentiate among rectangular, oval, round, six-sided and eight-sided containers as well as containers that come in the shape of a flower. The containers may also come shallow or deep, or have feet or a flat bottom. Some containers may be simple, while others may be decorated and glazed.
If you want to be absolutely sure regarding the type of container you would like to have for your bonsai and the setting of the room where you want to keep the plant, you need to be very patient, as finding the right container that suits your need will take some time. Therefore, it is advised that you take some time off and visit a good speciality store to look for the desired container for your bonsai. There is no doubt that it would be worthwhile doing so. You may also visit a botanical garden's gardening store, which is another place where you may get the right container for your bonsai.
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In general, the ideal length of the container ought to be about two-thirds of the bonsai tree's height. In case the indoor bonsai tree is wider compared to its height, which actually happens rarely, you need to go for a container that is almost two-third of the miniature plant's width.
In addition, the container's depth ought to be in proportion with bonsai trunk's diameter. In case, it is a group of trees, the depth of the container should be balanced with the diameter of the largest tree's trunk. The container's sides may be straight or even angled, flowing or rounded. In fact, a bonsai tree having a strong "personality" should ideally be grown in a container with straight sides, while bonsai with slanted or softer forms should be grown in rounded containers, as they will complement such trees better. It is important to note that the longer side of a container that is rectangular, flat or oval shaped is always its front side.
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When you are selecting a container to grow your bonsai tree, always ensure that the inner part of the container is plain and not shiny or glazed.
If you are using a flat container that is a square or has six sides, you should always place the straight side that faces the front. On the other hand, you can also turn the container in a manner that a corner faces the room.
A corner or a straight side can face the room in case you are using a very deep container. Usually, deep containers with six sides or eight sides are placed in a manner that any one corner faces the room.
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It has been seen that often genuine bonsai aficionados, who have used their indoor bonsai as the focus of the environment of their home, develop an additional leisure pursuit - that of gathering old, prized containers. In fact, the old containers, especially that are handmade, not only have a classical beauty, but also surpass the attractiveness of the prized contemporary bowls. In fact, you may decorate the old containers using ornaments made from porcelain or even paint them attractively. Nevertheless, containers that follow a rich tradition and have been created with remarkable simplicity are the ones that seem to impress most.
Despite being the most essential horticultural feature of bonsai, perhaps it is also misunderstood most. Usually, many people plant their bonsai trees directly into the soil they have dug out from their garden. Some others do even more extreme things like planting their bonsai in an artificial growing medium. However, the best possible thing to do is something in between - a blend of garden soil and artificial medium.
Gardeners across the globe have acknowledged that any soil that is extremely sandy, rocky, clayey or peaty is not the best soil to grow plants. On the contrary, a sandy loam is usually considered to be the perfect growing medium for plants. In other words, it means that the soil should have a good drainage, in addition to possessing the ability to retain enough moisture. Besides these issues, the ideal soil for growing bonsai should also enclose enough humus in order to sustain the extremely vital micro-organisms as well as sufficient food for the plants for robust growth of the bonsai trees.
However, when we talk about these general requirements for bonsai plants, it also means that their applications may be interpreted in many different ways. Nevertheless, it is essential that a practically good bonsai soil ought to comprise a reasonable and uniform mixture of loam, peat as well as sand, in addition to some blended plant foods. In fact, one cannot emphasize the need for an excellent drainage system very strongly, for the roots also require adequate ventilation. In fact, mixing coarse sand or grit in the compost for growing bonsai ought to make sure that the roots are exposed to enough air.
Hence, excellent compost is one that contains a well-balanced mix of various substances. However, the amount of each of these basic constituents will differ depending on the tree species you may be growing. Hence, pines as well as junipers will thrive exceptionally in compost that is mainly composed of sand. On the other hand, azaleas and rhododendrons have a preference for peaty compost, while many flowering trees like crab apple and wisteria have a preference for lots of loamy soil.
In fact, you need to undertake several trials and then observe the results with a view to determine the compost mix that is best and suits any specific species. In case of any uncertainty, you may apply a good vital formula comprising equal proportions of loam, sharp sand and peat. If you want to improve the drainage system, you may enhance the amount of sand. If you are growing junipers or pines, you may use a high proportion of sand, for instance in the ratio of 70 to 80 percent.
Positioning your bonsai tree is another vital aspect to ensure their survival and successful growth. Unless you are growing a particular type of plant species natural to the tropical regions in the northern hemisphere, you should never keep bonsai indoors. In fact, indoor conditions are never good for the health of bonsai plants that require lots of sunlight, fresh air and even rain for their robust growth.
Currently there are differences of opinion regarding whether total sunlight or shade is best for growing bonsai. In fact, there is no strict rule regarding this. To a great extent, it is subject to the tree species you are growing as bonsai as well as the climatic conditions in the area. For instance, junipers and pines have a preference for full sun. On the other hand, maples as well as other deciduous trees have a liking for semi-shaded locations. You can do this by placing these bonsai plants in an area where they can get the full sun in early mornings and shift them to a shaded area in the afternoon. In the tropical regions, bonsai growers widely use shade netting with a view to shelter the leaves from being charred, especially during the afternoons. In addition, shade netting also helps to ensure that the plants are cool. In other regions of the globe, shade netting helps to provide effective shade alternative.
In places where the temperature drops below -4°C (25°F) during the winter months, it is essential to protect the trees from such cold. The best way of protecting the bonsai from such cold is to place the trees in a cool greenhouse. Alternatively, you may also place the trees below display benches that are covered with polythene sheeting or glass. It is important to note that drafts are extremely harmful to frozen bonsai, because the effects of the cold can worsen due to the wind chill aspect. Hence, it is advised that you take additional care to shield the susceptible species like trident maples from cold by placing the root ball of the plant or the entire pot inside a profound sphagnum moss peat bed. On the other hand, it has been found that generally exposure to some cold is beneficial for evergreen trees. In fact, providing junipers and pines with excessive protection will result in sappy growth.
In places having extreme cold climatic conditions and the temperatures generally drop under -10°C (14°F), it is essential to grow the very tender tree species like pomegranates and trident maples in cellars or under cool and dry sheds throughout the winter. Deciduous species generally do not require any light. However, evergreen species should never be placed in a dark place for over two weeks at a stretch. In case, the evergreens are left to grow in dark places for over a fortnight, they will become yellowish.
Occasionally, it is essential to examine the root balls of the bonsai trees with a view to ensure that the soil has not become completely dry. It is important to keep the soil somewhat moist always.
However, bonsai trees do not require any protection during the winter months in the Mediterranean region as well as the places having tropical climatic conditions. However, cold conditions are necessary for some species for encouraging them to go into a dormant stage and also to facilitate the trees to shed their leaves or even promote their ability to bear flowers and fruits. For instance, absence of cold conditions will stop the species like crab apples, Japanese maples, beech and larch from going through their normal growing cycles as well as make these trees weak and eventually result in their death. In the countries around the Mediterranean region as well as in California, several bonsai aficionados provide their miniature trees with artificial dormancy by means of placing them in cold store, which provides them with the necessary cold. In fact, this is the only means by which you can induce the trees to produce flowers as well as fruits. However, it is unfortunate that the trees will not produce attractive fall colors readily when they are put under artificial cold conditions.